Presented on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at the Park Church. Sarah Ingle is an English lecturer at the University of Virginia, where she received her PhD in English literature in 2014, specializing in 19th-century American literature and African American literature. She has visited Elmira several times as a Quarry Farm Research Fellow and as a presenter at several conferences. She has also taught a class on “Huck Finn and Cultural Conflict” and has delivered conference papers and published articles about the works of Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pauline Hopkins, and others. This talk is adapted from a chapter of her book manuscript, Conjured Memories: Race, Place, and Cultural Memory in the American Conjure Tale, which she hopes to publish.
In Following the Equator (1897), Mark Twain wrote, “Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.” Yet, despite this indication that Twain viewed superstition as a supremely powerful social force, scholars have had surprisingly little to say about the role of superstition in Twain’s most famous novel. From Jim’s fortune-telling hair ball to Tom Sawyer’s “witch pie,” magic and folklore are much more than mere manifestations of “local color” and minstrel show humor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conjuring is Twain’s metaphor for the twin powers of memory and prediction that are at the heart of the novel’s critique of post-Reconstruction America. In Huckleberry Finn, conjure becomes a metaphor for two competing ways of reading: Jim’s fortune-telling and Huck’s transformative retrospection.